Although the terms "Mafia" and "La Cosa
Nostra" are often used interchangeably, the two
groups are quite distinct. The word mafia represents
both a way of life in Sicily that is centuries old as
well as an organization in western Sicily whose
roots date back at least to the 1800's. La Cosa Nostra (LCN), on the other hand, is a domestic,
modern organized crime confederation of Ameri-
cans of Italian descent. Since the LCN was created
largely by men of Sicilian birth, its unwritten yet
fixed rules of conduct are based loosely on the
traditions of Sicily and the Mafia.
In addition to the Sicilian Mafia, two other criminal groups have originated in Italy the Cammora from Naples and the 'Ndrangheta from Calabria. Law enforcement officials believe that some elements of the Mafia have migrated to the United States and Canada, the Cammora to New England and Colombia and the 'Ndrangheta to Australia. Law enforcement agencies now recognize the distinctions between the groups and realize that Italian organized crime entities present a worldwide problem.
In the United States and Canada, it was once thought that Sicilian mafiosi were members of La Cosa Nostra, but law enforcement officials have only recently established that the two groups are independent. However, the Mafia has developed a working relationship with its American LCN counterparts. Members of the LCN from both the United States and Canada have been known to meet with Sicilian Mafia members on business and also to receive tribute from them on behalf of local LCN leaders. A few Sicilian mafiosi, such as Giuseppe Gambino of Cherry Hill, are members of the LCN as well. Gambino is a native of Palermo, from which his great-uncle Carlo emigrated to the United States illegally in 1921 and who in 1957 became boss of the LCN family that now bears his name.
Much like the LCN, the Mafia uses violence to intimidate those who might be inclined to challenge its power and authority. The primary difference is that violence for centuries has been more of a way of life for the Sicilians, and they use it to an even greater extent than the American LCN. Fortunately, the United States has not experienced this Sicilian proclivity toward violence to the fullest. In Italy, however, the violence is not directed only at Mafia members. Victims of Mafia violence there include judges, police officials, relatives of mafiosi and innocent bystanders who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Another characteristic that sets the Mafia apart from the LCN is the former's use of women and non-Mafia family members to conduct its illicit activities. Investigations have revealed that women couriers are often used to transport narcotics in quantities small enough to be strapped to their bodies in Italy for delivery to the United States. Although the Mafia uses the services of non-members, it is more selective than the LCN about inducting new members into its ranks. Most members are either related through blood or marriage, making it difficult for law enforcement to penetrate this coterie. (In this regard, the Mafia is much like the Coombian drug cartels.)
The greatest source of revenue for the Sicilian Mafia is narcotics trafficking. Because of its world-wide connections, the Mafia has established a transportation network that brings cocaine from Colombia to Italy and heroin and cocaine from Italy to the United States. This group is using many east coast ports, including New York and Philadelphia, for its smuggling operations.
The extent of the close relationship between the Sicilian Mafia and Colombia's Medellin drug cartel first became apparent with the November 2, 1989, indictment of 12 persons in Miami linked to the Mafia. The defendants were accused of shipping 30 one-kilogram loads of cocaine by train and automobile from Miami to Philadelphia and New York between 1985 and 1987. Among those indicted were John Galatalo, a Sicilian Mafia member who lives in Miami, and Angel Leon Sanchez, a member of the Barranquilla drug group, which is linked directly to the Medellin Cartel in Colombia.
Once the drugs were in the United States, an elaborate interstate shipping network involving pizzerias, restaurants and pizza supply businesses was used to further distribute the contraband. These businesses also served as fronts for the participants to give them ostensibly legitimate sources of income as well as community status. In addition to the importation of large quantities of narcotics, several of the conspirators were also charged with selling smaller quantities of heroin and cocaine to a few individuals who could be described as middlemen in a narcotics network. Some of these transactions were carried out in the pizza parlors and other establishments run by the defendants. The sellers frequently used illegal aliens from Italy to carry out these and other tasks in connection with the illicit enterprises.
An earlier series of indictments stemming from a federal operationcalled "Iron Tower" that originated in Philadelphia and Buffalo, New York, has given law enforcement the most intimate look at the Sicilian Mafia to date. The investigation began as two separate probes which were merged when it developed that there was an international aspect involving a Sicilian drug connection. The investigation involved several New Jersey residents who are members of the Sicilian Mafia, including Francesco Badalamenti of Cherry Hill, Salvatore Piliteri of Sewell, Antonio Romano of Mount Holly, Salvatore DiMaio of Maple Shade, Filippo Filiberto of Cherry Hill, Frank Sciarvino of Turnersville, and Tomasso Scalise of Denville.
This probe, which spanned several years, resulted in the arrest in 1988 of more than 200 persons in the United States and numerous foreign countries including Italy, Spain and the Dominican Republic. Of the 68 arrested in the United States, several were living in southern New Jersey. The impact of this investigation on these individuals appears to be significant in that their smuggling operation was virtually destroyed and several major Mafia figures were arrested. Some of those whose names appeared on arrest warrants were already on bail in Italy on other offenses. Many fled the country when the indictments were released and quietly entered the United States. One defendant was already a fugitive, having been wanted for the murder of a prosecutor in Palermo.
This group was heavily involved between 1984 and 1988 in the distribution of cocaine from South American to Italy and the importation into the United States of large quantities of heroin from Italy. These entrepreneurs capitalized on the law of supply and demand to generate tremendous profits since cocaine was in short supply in Italy, while heroin commanded high prices in the United States.
The prosecution resulting from the investigation is currently at various stages of the judicial process. Some defendants have been tried and con- victed, some have pleaded guilty, others are awaiting trial and some remain fugitives. The federal government has also begun court action to seize properties acquired by some of the defendants with the illicit income earned from their narcotics trafficking.
Although several members of the targeted group in "Iron Tower" (including Giuseppe Gambino) lived and conducted some of their activities in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area the headquarters for this multi-billion dollar drug operation was the Cafe Giardino, a combination bar, restaurant and discotheque in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. The success of "Iron Tower" stemmed from the extensive use of court authorized wiretaps and bugs in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as in Italy. Undercover agents and confidential informants were also used to make drug purchases from many of the defendants. Several electronic listening devices and telephone wiretaps at the Cafe Giardino captured thousands of hours of incriminating conversations. All of the recorded conversations were in Sicilian dialects, and most were in the dialect common in Palermo. Many of the conversations were spoken in a cryptic and coded manner and they all contained discussions about drugs, money laundering, extortion, loansharking and the balance of power among the various families.
The new head of the Sicilian Mafia in the United States is believed to be Rosario Naimo, formerly of Colonia, New Jersey, and presently a fugitive wanted for his involvement in the Pizza Connection II investigation. Naimo's elevation occured after the conviction in Philadelphia of Francesco Gambino for his role in running the "Iron Tower" conspiracy. While Naimo is a fugitive, the daily activities of the Mafia and its drug distribution business are now believed to be controlled by Carlo Filiberto of Cherry Hill, who was formerly employed by the Gambino brothers when they owned Valentino's Restaurant in Cherry Hill and who first surfaced during the SCI's investigation of the Gambino brothers in 1977.
Several other significant figures in the South Jersey faction of the Mafia are either in prison or wanted by the authorities for their roles in the conspiracy alleged in "Iron Tower." This has caused the group to be in a state of transformation since the termination of the covert phase of the investigation. What these structural changes actually are and what lasting effect "Iron Tower" will have on this group may not be known for a long time.
While operation "Iron Tower" can be con- sidered a major victory for law enforcement, the Sicilian Mafia is not a new criminal phenomenon. Leadership roles left vacant as a result of recent prosecutions will most likely be filled promptly from an estimated 3,000 members available.